We all love a good show. Curling up to a laptop with snacks and time to waste is a popular pastime of many 21st Century teens. Similar to food, everyone’s taste in television is different. Whether it’s the sentimentality of a long-running hit that attracts you, or the communal feeling of cult shows, a love for drama, character romance and entertainment is one we all share. Due to our societal obsession with television, when shows step outside the walls of their predictable counterparts and say something new, it creates buzz.
When Shonda Rhimes introduced the concept of open-lesbian couples in the early 2000s of Grey’s Anatomy, she moved mountains for the LGBTQ+ movement. When I Love Lucy debuted an interracial couple as its stars in the fifties, it made waves in TV history. And when 13 Reasons Why displayed Hannah Baker slit her wrists and bleed to death, they started an earthquake.
13 Reasons Why was released to Netflix in March of 2017. Being the adaptation of a top selling book, its fandom grew as it was brought to the screen. Since its debut, fans and mental health professionals have been uprising against its creators for how they twisted the story for TV. Some believe that it was tasteful, other see it as triggering. The argument as to how producers chose to illustrate the story is one that’s been controversial. But with the release of season two happening on May 18th, it’s a controversy that needs to be discussed before it’s legitimately too late.
The story began as a bestselling book that came out in October of 2007. While based off the same plot, many feel that the show doesn’t do the book justice and was taken in a polar opposite direction.
The premise of the series shows the life of Hannah Baker, or rather, “it shows why her life ended”. In 13 episodes, it takes you through each person (reason) that made her ultimately take her life.
The show is meant to be an adaptation of the book, however, it’s more of a mutation. The tone of the series is vengeful. Protagonist, Hannah Baker, talks not of the good things in her life, but rather blames all her suffering on her peers. She was devastatingly bullied throughout the show, but the way Netflix conveyed it, it came off as her leaving these death tapes as revenge to make her suicide a public spectacle.
As someone who volunteers at a crisis hotline and has conversed with suicidal people, that is not the mindset of those actually struggling. When most people experience suicidal ideation — having suicidal thoughts — they’re not looking to have their perpetrators “rue the day”, they just want to end it. They feel suicidal because they’re suffering and don’t see an end to the tunnel of pain. They feel that ending it all would be less painful than enduring. Does that seem like someone who would be making sarcastic audio diaries?
Perhaps the most demented thing about the series is its following. On Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr there are hundreds of fan accounts for the show. These accounts deify a character who was suicidal and troubled. The fans are so captivated by the satire and romance of it all, they’re disregarding the premise.
They’re ignoring the fact that all of their “favorite characters” essentially gang up together against Hannah to bully her, simply because they like the plot. They advocate on the sides of characters like Bryce, a rapist, because they think the actors are attractive. The concept of a show shining a light on such a ubiquitous problem as suicide sounds great, but that’s not what 13 Reasons Why is. They missed the point.
The show functions as a tutorial to vengeance and death; showing step by step how to end your life while getting back at people.
Not only is it an unhealthy perspective to have on life, it’s also dangerous to be advertising to youth. Dealing with school, social and societal stress can be enough to make giving up seem favorable on its own. If we publicize “a way out”, someone might just take it.
I understand that they were trying to make youth aware of what a tragedy suicide is; I just feel that there are different and more realistic ways to shed light on the matter. Suicide is the second leading cause of teen death in America. It’s more fatal than cancers and flesh-eating diseases. You wouldn’t have fan accounts and hazes of hashtags about necrotizing fasciitis, so what makes it appropriate for suicide?
Suicide is a massive problem internationally. While the series glorifies the matter, it has also given global attention to the problem.
The popularity of the show has gotten people talking about suicide and bullying. Like a common cold, everyone either has or knows someone who has experienced harassment themselves. This show has opened up the conversation for how we can combat it.
Overall, I feel that the show and its producers had intentions that were different from the end result. It was the execution that was its downfall. There are better ways to spread awareness. For the sake of those struggling with ideation or those who choose to watch season two, I hope the producers have made it less hyperbolized and more thought out than its predecessor. Mental health matters, and the show should exhibit that.
– Chelsea Seifer, Teen Line Listener